2 - First gig and first recordings

The Stargazers debuted on stage on January 3rd 1981 at the Jubilee Hall, Maldon, Essex. The set was a mix of Bill Haley, Freddie Bell and Treniers covers with no original number except maybe for one instrumental. The reaction was beyond all expectations.
Danny keeps a vivid memory of that night: “It was packed. I had Bill Haley lyrics driving me mental running around in my head and the week before someone had hit me on the head with a dustbin in a fight so, with a shaved patch and ten stitches I looked like a mental patient too. It went well though and it looked like my hunch that they were going to be a popular band was right”.

John, Danny and Pete onstage at «The Venue» in Victoria, probably 1981
photo © www.facebook.com/TheStargazers

The music, the look and the details blew everybody’s mind up. The band impact was not only due to the sound. The matching Tuxedos, the vintage microphones and instruments including Ricky’s Trixon drumkit with its special bass drum were also a big part of the show. The drummer remembers the way he acquired it: “In December 1980, Peter and I went to the Unit 1 music shop near his house in Harrow. I asked the owner if he had any 1950s drums, he said yes in the storeroom upstairs, but could we come back in the New Year as the shop was so busy. I returned in January 1981, went to the storeroom with the shop owner, who proceeded to remove a massive amount of empty boxes and rubbish from a cupboard until he eventually pulled out a red Trixon bass drum. I had never seen anything like it before, it was shaped like a squashed potato, completely nuts! He then got out the rest of the kit – I loved it and had to have it! ‘How much?’ I asked. ‘£75.00’ was the reply. I almost pulled a muscle in my arm as I speedily paid him the cash and left the shop very, very pleased. I had found my 1957 Trixon Speedfire kit!” With Ricky still using this kit today, this must be some of the best £75.00 invested in the Rock’n’roll history.

Gigs began to pour in, and the Stargazers appeared at Rock’n’roll venues as well as colleges and parties too. They soon felt enough confidence to put some tracks on tape and on February 14th, they stopped by BlackWing Studio, an old church converted into a recording studio. Black Wing would later have famous clients like Depeche Mode or Yazoo (Remember Yazoo? Probably not, if you’re under 35). But instead of using the modern sounding equipment of the studio, they used the crypt of the old church located below the studio, believing that the natural echo would suit their sound better. Seven songs were quickly recorded: four covers, Teenage Party (Tommy Steele), The Big Beat (Crombie), Better Believe It (Bill Haley & The Comets), Caravan (Duke Ellington) and three originals, Jump Around, Move Over Baby (both written by Davenport) and I’ve Got A Baby (Anders Janes). The originals were brought by Anders or Pete to the rehearsals fairly complete (lyrics, chords, melody) and then each member contributed to the arrangement to create what became the Stargazers sound. Move Over Baby was already in the Rhythm Cats’ set and their version, sung by Davenport, can be heard on Homegrown Rockabilly. The quality of the playing on these recordings and the inclusion of originals show that they were more than a bunch of amateurs playing rock’n’roll. Happy with the result, some acetates were pressed and sent to influential DJ’s. This session later resurfaced on album: Teenage Party, Better Believe It, I Got A Baby, Move over Baby and Caravan ended on Rock That Boogie in 1993 while Jump Around can be found (good luck) on the bootleg vinyl album “Hello Everybody – Jump Around”.
Famous DJ 50’s Flash (later associated with Northwood records) got a copy of this demo. He particularly enjoyed “Jump Around” and heavily promoted it. As a result, the song quickly became a dance floor hit.
The band then embarked on the infamous “North of Watford” tour that took them as far as Scotland. Thus they discovered the “joy of the road” and though they were confronted with breakdown, fights, lack of comfort, and accidents, this tour was, judging by the response of the audience, a real success.
Safely back home, the Stargazers kept on gigging: they played the Tribute to Bill Haley on March 5th with the Dynamite Band, the 5th International Rock’n’Roll Weekend Hop on March 20th sharing the stage with Mac Curtis, Buzz & the Flyers, the Polecats Crazy Cavan and the Rainbow All Dayer on May 25th. But one particular gig proved to be a turning point in the band’s history. It took place at the Venue in London on May 11th. For this show they shared the stage with Birdie & Eve and Torso & the Flying Fratellinis. Despite their growing reputation the band was placed at the bottom of the bill, meaning they were among the first to play that night. After a storming set, the manageress informed five sweaty Stargazers that Muff Winwood, an important A&R manager from Epic Records had just arrived and wanted to see them perform. “Luckily I managed to find all the band members and we went down for a second performance, clothed in our wet and cold stage gear!” remembers Ricky.

Watch out for episode 3, that’ll find the boys signing with a major laber and releasing their debut single.
Go to PART 3

Or read PART 1

 © Fred "Virgil" Turgis / Jumpin' from 6 to 6 - 2012